50 Business Challenges: No. 12 Netweaving

What, you ask, is the difference between networking and netweaving?

There are those who go to their first business networking event, speak to 6 people, get no orders – and vow never to waste their time again. Netweaving (there is an American organisation of that name) starts from the other end with trying to help the people you meet. So somebody just setting up in business may need some business cards. You introduce them to a printer that you know. You get nothing immediate from the transaction.

Except that you now have both a happy business owner and a happy printer, at a cost to you of nothing. And your credibility as a person to do business with is enhanced. They may or may not return the favour, but at least you are in the right mind set to be an effective networker.

Are there still lawyers out there who are not out mixing with business people? Being known is vital, particularly being known for the right things. Technical legal ability is important, but clients can only judge you on how you treat them and others. Even 40 years ago, when partners had a reputation for spending every afternoon on the golf course, this was all about making connections.

Go, meet, greet – and thrive.

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50 Business Challenges: No. 11 Cover Your Weaknesses

A fortnight ago, I suggested playing to your strengths. And obviously, playing to weakness makes little sense.

Bur too many people spend too much time trying to become adequate in their areas of weakness. This time cannot then be spent trying to maximise strengths. That is not to say that developing skills is a bad thing, but being selective makes sense. As always, match action to your situation.

There are 3 steps

1. acknowledge your weakness in one area.

2. Decide whether to improve your skills or cover the weakness.

3. Take the appropriate action, and keep going.

To illustrate covering a weakness, I confess to a weakness for chocolate digestive biscuits (especially the plain kind). I cannot eat just one, so the whole packet disappears (however big) within about an hour. I can therefore choose to develop iron self discipline so that I resist temptation. Alternatively, I can simply not buy chocolate digestives. Which course allows me the time to do something more productive?

Wales v England: Lessons not Gloating

As a died in the wool Welsh Rugby supporter, Saturday was a good day. I did not expect a record victory, though I thought Wales might shade it.

But I cannot help looking at it for business lessons as well. The first minor lesson refers to the “as long as we beat England” supporters. It is not good enough. Beating the top dog of Britain (historically, politically and economically) is one thing, but we should measure ourselves against the best in the world. The same applies to business – being a big fish in a small pond is sustainable only so long as the predators keep to the large pond.

The more important point though is how Wales turned around their season from 8 consecutive defeats to winning the 6 nations. How did they do it?

1. They recognised the problem – not very difficult in the circumstances. Possible they could have done so sooner.

2. They too a realistic view. They recognised their own abilities, that several games had been lost by narrow margins, and that injuries had played a part.

3. Most of all, they brought their game back to a defensible core based on defence and fitness. These were two areas where they were confident. Their attacking game on the other hand was more vulnerable to a lack of confidence. That is exactly what a business in turnaround needs to do, bring things back to a defensible core.

4. They added, somewhat unexpectedly, a strength at set piece. This nullified the strengths of other teams. A different approach in one area, if available at limited cost in time or money, can pay off.

5. They held together as a team, The championship involved several difficult selection decisions, yet they were all accepted by the players concerned without complaint. There is a need for everyone to hold together to execute the same plan, even if it is not perfect.

So while business and sport are not the same (there is no finishing line in business) there are still lessons that we can learn.

Blakemores Demise

Blakemores, James Pearce & Co. and (in January) Cobbetts. There is a hole in the Birmingham legal sector.

Blakemores is a firm that embraced our Brave New Legal World, setting up Lawyers2You, setting up stall in shopping centres around the region and operating their own call centre.  I have always wondered how effective the stalls were – the ones I passed regularly did not seem swamped by potential clients.

From the outside, this looks like a cash flow issue. Presumably the £5 million they invested, however structured, has not been matched by the cash coming in. This shows that there are business risks in changing, if the change does not work. And if it was easy to predict that an action would not work, nobody would take it in the first place. Whether a law firm should try to run a call centre is another issue.

Make sure you understand how your business works!

The other point is to query whether a full scale intervention by the SRA is necessary in an administration. If the issue is only cash flow, might client interests be better served by an administrator who can protect their interests? That way, there could be an orderly hand over of files to other firms, and, of course, some matters could be completed.

50 Business Challenges: No. 10 Learn to Write

Not adult literacy, but as a previous challenge was to learn to speak in public, this is to write for the public.

This is another challenge for lawyers in particular. We are used to drafting formal documents, and while Latin is in decline, jargon is not (and it can have a legitimate place).

Legal writing generally requires accuracy and/or the development of a logical argument. Writing for the public generally needs to be simpler (often at 6th form level) and needs to both obtain and keep the reader’s attention. Short sentences work, rather than using subordinate clauses (think Denning). If you can, tell a story.

Know your audience, and pitch accordingly. Have some idea of their level of knowledge of the subject matter. It is patronising to get this wrong, in either direction.

So practise, and ask for feedback. Hone your skills for different purposes.

50 Business Challenges: No. 9 Strengths

While we all need to understand our weaknesses, it is easy to become preoccupied by them. But if we should look at what people can do, rather than what they cannot, it is only fair to apply the same yardstick to ourselves.

If you have been tested under different circumstances, you may well have a good idea of your strengths. If not, there are personality tests which can help. Either way, play to your strengths, but always be aware that this can be a trap if a new job or situation requires you to move out of your comfort zone and try something new.